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Plastic Surgery: An Ugly Trend This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Society has always valued beauty. In literature, ­attractiveness often symbolizes an admirable protagonist, while ugliness indicates the abominable antagonist. As children we are taught, without even realizing it, to prize beauty. People of every race and culture have gone to extremes in the name of beauty – from foot-binding in China, to dangerously constricting corsets in Victorian times, to nose jobs in 800 B.C. India. While plastic surgery has been around since ancient times, it has only recently become accepted by the masses.

Television programs that promote plastic surgery – “I Want a Famous Face” on MTV, “The Swan” on Fox, “Extreme Makeover” on ABC, “Nip/ Tuck” on FX, and “Dr. 90210” on E – expose the public to a business once kept under wraps. Reality television embraces the topic due to its shock ­value – however, the public is becoming more and more accustomed to the idea of plastic surgery.

Not only have these programs created a generation that isn’t fazed by images of blood, Botox, or bandages. Sometime during the process of beautifying average humans, they have implanted something besides silicone: the belief that cosmetic surgery will improve lives. Now, not only do people accept plastic surgery, they embrace it as a solution to personal and professional problems. While appearance has always been important, mainstream acceptance of plastic surgery has created a society that values appearance over ability.

According to Drs. Iva Sorta-Bilajac and Amir Muzur, rhinoplasty developed in ancient India due to the practice of nose mutilation as a form of public punishment for immoral conduct. Therefore, the connection between an unattractive nose and an immoral being was deeply rooted in this society. While the nose is not a vital ­organ, it is exposed to everyone’s view and has ­become a symbol of integrity as well as an important ­aspect of ­human beauty.

Only a couple of decades ago it was considered taboo to admit having “work” done, and it was not ­unusual for patients to take extreme measures – sneaking into doctors’ offices through the back door, or using fake names – to hide the fact. As noted in the New York Times article “The Doctor Will See You, and Your Party, Now” by Anna Bahney, more patients became interested in procedures after seeing them on TV and researching them online. Currently, plastic ­surgery is so commonplace that instead of scheduling secretive meetings, ­patients often bring parents, siblings, spouses, or friends to consultations.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, nearly 11.5 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the U.S. in 2005. On the website The Medical Tourism Guide, readers are told, “Plastic or cosmetic surgery can help to boost confidence and vitality. In the case of cosmetic surgery, think of this procedure as an overhaul, much like you’d add that new roof or coat of paint to a car.” Some of the appeal lies in the way it is promoted, like statements that market surgery as a confidence-booster.

Our reality television shows are modern fairy tales. They all use a common formula: take an average, unhappy individual, alter her appearance, and after a surgical transformation she is magically a success. While the message is the same, there is one difference: these aren’t fictional characters, they’re real people.

The confidence that comes from a new nose, fake breasts, or liposuction is only temporary – physically (many procedures are not permanent and need to be repeated) as well as emotionally. Often, patients’ insecurities about their appearance are symptoms of underlying psychological issues, such as depression, and may be temporarily alleviated by surgery. But this temporary confidence is nothing in comparison to the confidence one can obtain by excelling in sports, academics, or a hobby. Marketing cosmetic surgery as a confidence-booster increases profits, but it also gives people unrealistic expectations. They believe that their life will change and are disappointed when it doesn’t.

After undergoing plastic surgery, many people finally feel accepted. By transforming into an ideal beauty, they earn the approval of others and receive positive attention. Some people even have “coming-out parties.” But while plastic surgery may appear to increase confidence, it’s often an illusion –
even to the patients themselves, who might confuse real self-esteem with the joy of feeling as though others approve of their appearance.

Psychologist David Sarwer believes the acceptance of plastic surgery goes beyond vanity: “We’ve become ­increasingly accepting of ways of changing our bodies. We’re much more comfortable with our bodies as malleable.” People have always altered their bodies, mainly through diet or ­exercise, so it’s no surprise that many view themselves as changeable. But what causes someone to want to alter his or her body? We all seek approval – from parents, spouses, children, coworkers, and friends. Even if it’s a subconscious desire, everyone wants to be deemed acceptable. Plastic surgery can gain the approval of others, but why should you care about the opinion of people who don’t see you for who you are on the inside?

Parents often pressure their children to do well academically, but with plastic surgery becoming so accepted, some parents are pressuring their children to have cosmetic work. Children as young as six are undergoing minor procedures, and 13-year-olds are having nose jobs. Doctors and parents who support these surgeries claim that the child understands. However, it’s more probable that she realizes her parents want her to change, and is willing to comply.

Some people feel pressured by their spouse to remain youthful or become more ­attractive. According to Donna Henderson-King, author of “Acceptance of cosmetic surgery: scale development and validation,” many women “desire to meet social expectations of beauty. Women are socialized to see themselves as objects to be looked at, and consequently view themselves from the perspective of others.” In this study, King found that the more shame women felt about not having met socially defined standards of beauty, the more likely they were to accept cosmetic surgery.

Plastic surgery constantly appears in pop culture. Many celebrities have had cosmetic surgery, and the American public is constantly exposed to images of these altered humans. In a Mike Williams cartoon, two women scrutinizing Rembrandt’s self portrait say, “You’d think that if he’d been that successful he would have had his nose fixed.” This is a perfect example of society’s belief that attractiveness is a necessary part of success. Rembrandt is a renowned artist, but the women in the cartoon are not discussing his artistic ability; they’re critiquing his appearance. Our society blatantly values appearance over ability.

This acceptance of plastic surgery, as well as the value of appearance over ability, affects youth. From a young age, children play with toys like Barbie dolls and burly action figures, with bodies that are physically impossible to achieve. Exposure to these “ideals” is damaging to the self-esteem of youths.

People have always wanted to look like society’s ideal. In the late 19th century, Irish immigrants in New York got “English” noses to transform themselves into Americans. The ideal ­appearance in society is always based on the appearance of the dominant group.

With so much importance placed on appearance, other attributes often come second. Young people are learning that they should aim to be beautiful instead of intelligent. It’s even a common practice for parents to reward high school graduates with nose jobs, breast ­implants, or liposuction. But is cos­metic surgery an appropriate reward for years of hard work and academic achievement?

In American culture, the mold of an “attractive” person is getting smaller and less forgiving of any differences. “The assembly-line look ultimately damages the notion of personal identity. We are in danger of doing something unthinkable, which is making beauty boring,” according to Dr. Nancy Etcoff. In a cartoon by Dave Carpenter, two men tell a stranger, “No, we’re not related. We just have the same plastic surgeon.” This pokes fun at the tendency for plastic surgery patients to appear generic afterward. However, there is some truth to this. On reality makeover shows, the subjects come out looking eerily alike.

Cosmetic surgery is no longer limited to the wealthy; banks offer loans for it. As plastic surgery becomes more mainstream, it’s interesting to ponder whether the value of beauty will ­decrease as it becomes something that anyone can buy.

Vanity in our culture has increased and become more acceptable. People are more open about their desire to be attractive, and plastic surgery no longer has a negative connotation. However, America is also the most medicated ­nation on earth. Ten percent of our population take antidepressants. It’s obvious that these surgeries are not ­really making us happier. Rather, they delay the process of some individuals seeking the necessary psychological help. Even the young aren’t immune to depression. More children than ever are developing eating disorders and poor self-esteem.

Happiness can be achieved, but not through surgery. People need to ­embrace their differences instead of trying to erase them. Only when we are at peace with ourselves will we be ­truly radiant.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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This article has 145 comments. Post your own!

mads942 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 26, 2010 at 5:44 pm:
Wow! That was really interesting and well structured.
 
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J. Rae said...
Jan. 4, 2010 at 8:56 pm:
I believe that everybody is beautiful the way they were created and plastic surgery has blinded people so bad that they can't even see that. I read a book called the Uglies and it scared me to think that that could be our future. Have you read it? It's set in the future and everybody is made to think that they're ugly and at 16 they do a mandatory surgery that scrapes and reshapes they're bodies so that they look prettier.
 
Andrea C. replied...
Jan. 26, 2010 at 8:03 pm :
I read that series too. It was really freaky to think, What if that actually happens to us? And I think that plastic surgery is way too extreme. If you are overweight, diet and exercise would work. Take care of your skin to avoid "needing" a facelift later in life. It's a good thing to not look exactly like everyone else, and what gives you REAL confidence is looking in the mirror and telling yourself you look fabulous, big nose, freckles and all.
 
J. Rae replied...
Jan. 26, 2010 at 8:34 pm :
That is exactly right! I look in the mirror every morning and tell myself I have beautiful eyes and name all of the positive things about my body. It works! People just are so worried about looking bad. The real cure for this is friends that say positive things about you. It's amazing what words can do.
 
J. Rae replied...
Jan. 26, 2010 at 8:41 pm :
That is exactly right! When I look in the mirror I tell myself I have beautiful eyes and that I have a beautiful body that is perfect the way it is. It really helps your self esteem. The real cure to people thinking bad about themselves is friends saying positive things.
 
adristar96 replied...
Feb. 17, 2010 at 3:50 pm :
I agree with you and i read the uglies as well. I did scare me too. Oh and also even if you have surgery you will still be old in the inside AND people have died while being under the knife. oh and you would have to waste money repeatedly because the surgery looses effect after 6 months or 10 years or something.
 
hiddenstar97 replied...
Mar. 10, 2010 at 11:45 pm :
ive read the pretties too andi was so freaked while reading the series and this article that the uglies ma be science fiction now, but with it b in the future? that might actually b our future, i mean we;re prett close to the rusties and might have to b forced to b in thier type of government with the way things r going.
 
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remym This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 1, 2010 at 2:22 am:
How boring it would be if everyone looked the same! Does anyone notice how similar the people (celebrities) we consider beautiful look? Same nose, hair, ultra-white teeth? Very nicely done. I like your writing style. Read my opinion article? It's called The Case Against Twilight.
 
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purpleink112 said...
Nov. 21, 2009 at 5:01 pm:
great article. you can definitely tell that you worked hard on it. i definitely agree with you about how people are too obsessed with appearances, and that plastic surgery is not the answer to all our problems. however, not all plastic surgery is so terrible. plastic surgeons work wonders for burn victims, people with cleft palates, and many more. i still agree with all your points, i'm just pointing that there are other sides to the story.
 
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writer24/7/365 said...
Nov. 1, 2009 at 9:00 am:
this is very good and very true.
 
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Inkspired said...
Oct. 8, 2009 at 4:15 pm:
I LOVE this! You wrote it really really well, and I agree with all your points. I think it's a shame that people judge you on what you wear, what you look like these days. You should write more!!
 
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Chrissy102 said...
Oct. 8, 2009 at 1:27 pm:
"While I do think that beauty is only skin deep, plastic surgery is not as morally wrong as people make it seem. If the ideals of society weren't so harsh, maybe no one would have any use for plastic surgery."
If you love yourself, you should love how you look no matter what anyone else thinks. God made everybody beautiful so nobody should change themselves no matter how other people think they look.
 
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completely_content said...
Oct. 8, 2009 at 9:09 am:
i totally agree with you but most people also dont realize that a large percent of people who get plastic surgry are often allergic to silicon and often have life threatening side affects
 
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AquariusSun&Moon This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 7, 2009 at 4:04 pm:
I love the last sentence, so true! :D Good work!
 
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This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 7, 2009 at 10:03 am:
This is amazing! And you are so right! We should not want to "fix" our bodies, as there is nothing wrong with them!
 
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socalledlife said...
Oct. 7, 2009 at 3:03 am:
the writing in this article is outstanding! you have done a fantastic job and i agree 100% with what you said. kudos to you!
 
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Lillian said...
Sept. 16, 2009 at 6:27 pm:
Very well thought out. I love how you go back to the early Irish Americans to look 'American' and talk about the 'dominant group'.
Also, how you go to the roots of childhood and the toys they play with.
Also, the cartoons provide a comic reilef. I mean I enjoyed every word!
There are some side-notes to think about though. You should add some opposition to satisfy and entice the adverse reader.
Maybe you could add a section about REASONS why one would... (more »)
 
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Yohomo said...
Aug. 2, 2009 at 11:53 am:
Well i agree with the article, shame no one i meet these days actually does care whats in my inside, and coz they dont eventually whats the cracks on the inside seep in...
 
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fisherj This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 27, 2009 at 1:13 am:
It's an evolutionary drive to improve one's fitness. The very ability to make those decisions comes to us as a product of pressures inherent in all human societies. There's nothing inherently wrong or right with cosmetic surgery, just as there is no way to value mundane cosmetic choices like hair style or nail polish color. Of course the procedures of trimming hair and reshaping bone structure are different, we cannot place values on them without reducing to some level of arbitrary a... (more »)
 
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emmyphan27 said...
Apr. 5, 2009 at 11:14 pm:
From the time we're born, we're brainwashed from both sides: "It's what's on the inside that counts," and then you turn on the television or pick up a magazine, or log onto the internet and see models and celebrities with airbrushed pictures or that have had work done. I get it: the world today is appearance obsessed. I know that-- we all live in this time, right?
That being said, plastic surgery does help people. I don't condone those that do it lightly, or those that seem ... (more »)
 
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